A questionnaire was sent to a selection of experienced published scholars, between November 2019 and February 2020, asking them to offer their views on the standards of teaching and research in their disciplines and in institutions with which they are familiar. The responses were then used to determine which universities were considered the most prestigious. The full methodology for the THE World Reputation Rankings 2020 can be found here.
The top 10 is dominated by US universities, except for the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford, which take fourth and fifth places respectively. The University of Tokyo has moved up one place from last year to number 10 and is the only Asian university in the top 10.
Although the results are based on academics’ views, students can incorporate the reputation of a university into their decision-making process when choosing where to study.
Indeed, Raphaëlle Soffe, a British student who is studying at Harvard University, said that the “reputation of Harvard University did influence my choice to a certain degree”, adding that “what distinguished it from other world-leading institutions was its focus on research, academic rigour and the creation of a community based on trust and respect”.
“My intention to pursue a career in international relations also influenced my decision. Harvard provided the perfect political training ground, with presidents, United Nations secretary-generals and other leading politicians from around the world educated on Harvard’s campus,” she added.
Scroll down for more student perspectives on studying at some of the most prestigious universities in the world.
Established in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest higher education institution in the US. It is considered one of the most prestigious universities in the world and has topped the THE World Reputation Rankings since 2011.
The institution has been affiliated with 161 Nobel laureates, 32 heads of state, 50 Pulitzer prizewinners and many other academic accolades and prizes.
The central library is the one of the largest academic libraries in the world with 18.9 million volumes, while America’s oldest collection of maps and atlases is stored in the Pusey Library.
MIT is a university based in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, dedicated to the teaching of science and technology. The sheer number of Nobel laureates affiliated with the institution – an impressive 95 – reveals the calibre of MIT graduates.
Scientific discoveries and technological advances to come out of the college include the first chemical synthesis of penicillin, the development of radar, the discovery of quarks and the invention of magnetic core memory, which aided the development of digital computers.
Students discuss universities with strong reputations
Does reputation matter to university students?
International perspective: a French student in Switzerland
A day in the life of a student in Singapore
Life at the University of Cambridge
The University of Toronto student perspective
Why I chose to study at Yale University
Studying at Princeton University
From a waiter working in Singapore to becoming a Harvard graduate
Women in STEM: stories from MIT students
Dispelling the myths around elite universities
Reflections from a University of Oxford foundation-year student
When Stanford University was opened in 1891, it was a co-educational institution, which was unheard of at a time when most universities were all-male affairs.
The research-intensive university has the largest number of Turing Award recipients for a single institution (28) as well as 34 Nobel laureates (19 among the current community of scholars) and four Pulitzer prizewinners. In addition, Stanford University has produced 74 billionaires and 17 astronauts.
Stanford faculty and alumni have also founded many companies including: Google, Hewlett-Packard, Nike, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn and Yahoo.
As well as being one of the most prestigious universities in the world, the University of Cambridge can also count itself among the oldest. The university is split into 31 autonomous colleges.
It is particularly known for its excellence in mathematics and a high number of Cambridge-affiliated mathematicians have won a Fields Medal, which is regarded as the Nobel prize for mathematics.
The institution is home to more than 100 libraries. One of the most well known is Wren Library, which is part of Trinity College and holds A. A. Milne’s manuscript of Winnie the Pooh, an Isaac Newton notebook and early editions of Shakespeare’s works.
Rounding off the top five is the University of Oxford. It is also one of the oldest universities in the world and at least 30 world leaders, 28 British prime ministers, 55 Nobel prizewinners, and more than 120 Olympic medallists have passed through its halls.
Entry standards are high and prospective students are expected to achieve top grades and pass an interview in order to study at the institution.
Notable alumni include Stephen Hawking, J. R. R. Tolkien, Oscar Wilde and Malala Yousafzai.
Like the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford follows a collegiate structure and is split into 44 colleges and halls. Nearly one-quarter of the city of Oxford’s population is made up of students, meaning that it has one of the youngest populations of any city in the UK.
The top 50 most prestigious universities
Click each institution to view its World University Ranking 2021 profile
Read more: Best universities in the world